Congress places no new ‘riders’ on D.C. budget bill

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Congress made no new attempts to influence D.C. social policy, sending a city budget bill to the House floor Thursday without any amendments related to the nation’s capital.

The bill would continue to ban the District from using local taxpayer funds to pay for abortions for poor women. Voting along party lines, lawmakers defeated an amendment to remove the ban, with the Republican majority voting to keep the restriction in place.

The ban on using local funds for abortion was re-imposed this spring as part of the budget deal that averted a federal shutdown. Congress has generally barred the district from spending its own money on abortion while Republicans have controlled one or both chambers.

Congress wields the ultimate authority over the District’s budget and laws, and advocates for D.C. autonomy have voiced concerns that Republicans might try to influence district policy on gay marriage, medical marijuana and handguns. But those issues didn’t come up during Thursday’s markup by the House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, offered the abortion amendment, saying Congress shouldn’t single out the district to impose its ideological agenda. She also said the ban discriminates against poor women.

“No other jurisdiction or state is told how to use its local revenue,” Ms. Lee said. “Low-income women in the District of Columbia suffer as a result of Congress playing politics with D.C.’s locally raised tax revenue.”

But Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri Republican, warned that anti-abortion lawmakers would block the entire appropriations bill if the restrictions on abortion were removed.

“There are other things on which we do want to allow D.C. to spend their local funds. If we don’t get this bill to the floor with the language prohibiting abortion, I’m afraid that we may run into other challenges,” Mrs. Emerson said.

The bill authorizes a $10.8 billion budget for the district for the upcoming fiscal year, $6.1 billion of which will come from local funds.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s non-voting congressional representative, said the lack of new riders sends a message that she hopes will resonate on the House floor, when other lawmakers will get a chance to amend the bill. She also said she hasn’t given up her fight to get the abortion restrictions removed.

Mrs. Norton said social-policy riders would run counter to the stated goals of tea party Republicans.

“This is the Congress that’s supposed to be into spending cuts, not social riders,” she said.

Also during Thursday’s hearing, Mrs. Emerson and Rep. Jose Serrano, New York Democrat, pledged to work together to fund AIDS outreach and prevention efforts in D.C. The District’s HIV infection rate is 3 percent, the highest of any U.S. city.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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